Friday, March 2, 2012

Peterson on Job: Part I

These thoughtful and poetic words from Eugene Peterson's introduction to the book of Job, both admonished and encouraged me.  Perhaps you too will find them helpful:

It is not suffering as such that troubles us.  It is undeserved suffering.

Almost all of us in our years of growing up have the experience of disobeying our parents and getting punished for it.  When that discipline was connected to wrongdoing, it had a certain sense of justice to it; When we do wrong, we get punished.

One of the surprises as we get older, however, is that we come to see that there is no real correlation between the amount of wrong we commit and the amount of pain we experience.  An even larger surprise is that very often there is something quite the opposite: We do right and get knocked down.  We do the best we are capable of doing, and just as we are reaching out to receive our reward we are hit from the blind side and sent reeling.  

This is the suffering that first bewilders and then outrages us.  This is the kind of suffering that bewildered and outraged Job, for Job was doing everything right when suddenly everything went wrong.  And it is this kind of suffering to which Job gives voice when he protests to God.

Job gives voice to his sufferings so well, so accurately and honestly, that anyone who has ever suffered - which includes every last one of us - can recognize his or her personal pain in the voice of Job.  Job says boldly what some of us are too timid to say.  He makes poetry out of what in many of us is only a tangle of confused whimpers.  He shouts out to God what a lot of us mutter behind our sleeves.  

It is also important to note what Job does not do, lest we expect something from him that he does not intend. Job does not curse God as his wife suggests he should do, getting rid of the problem by getting rid of God.  But neither does Job explain suffering.  He does not instruct us in how to live so that we can avoid suffering.  Suffering is a mystery, and Job comes to respect the mystery.

In the course of facing, questioning, and respecting suffering, Job finds himself in an even larger mystery - the mystery of God.  Perhaps the greatest mystery in suffering is how it can bring a person into the presence of God in a state of worship, full of wonder, love and praise.  Suffering does not inevitably do that, but it does it far more often than we would expect.  It certainly did that for Job.  Even in his answer to his wife he speaks the language of an uncharted irony, a dark and difficult kind of truth: "We take the good days from God - why not also the bad days?" be cont'

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